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Intercultural Consciousness and Leadership

Intercultural consciousness in leadership is proposed as a meta-concept. Think of it as a synergistic combination of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral knowledge and skills for intercultural competence and a commitment to consistent, caring, and ethical application of these skills and knowledge. Intercultural consciousness differs from intercultural competence in one critical dimension. It presumes that that intercultural competence would be utilized in an ethical and morally responsible fashion.

Leaders can exercise intercultural competence either ethically or unethically. A culturally competent leader may or may not be an ethical leader if motivated by egocentric and ethnocentric concerns and interests at the expense of those across the cultural divide. Global and local businesses and organizations that engage with diverse counterparts and customers for the sole purpose of advancing their self-interest at any cost may be interculturally competent, and yet be completely bereft of intercultural consciousness. This does not mean that businesses should not compete and negotiate aggressively, but rather that ethical parameters should govern the limits of such competitive behavior, particularly in intercultural contexts. Intercultural consciousness demands that leaders hold themselves and their constituents to high ethical standards consistently when operating across intercultural contexts.

It is often convenient for us to label specific leaders as evil, vicious, unsavory, and enemies of humanity. However leaders cannot engage alone in vicious actions and practices without the tacit consent of their constituents and followers. We often think of Hitler as the poster child of leadership don’ts. However we often fail to recognize that the good people of Germany allowed such a leader to gain power, prestige, and influence over their destiny. The majority of the country bought into his vision or at least did not actively dissent against the vision that he offered. We can find similar acts of vicious leadership when we look at the history of the USA and many other countries around the world: slavery, subjugation of various ethnic and religious groups, women, active interference with the civil rights of many other groups who are seen as holding beliefs and values that are considered contrary to the mainstream cultural values and practices by people in position of power and influence.

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